Saturday, April 19, 2008

Helping Dating Sites Stand Out In Crowds

On the day two years ago when Ray Doustdar officially launched his online dating Web site, the lead story in the Life section of USA Today was all about his company -- exactly as he planned.

Two months later, Doustdar and his site,, were featured on NBC's "Today" show, also as he planned.

His crowning achievement came one evening when NBC "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno used TeamDating for a joke. When meeting people through online dating sites, Leno said, dating in teams is safer because "the police have more clues as to where to find your body."

"What I think happened is one of Leno's writers read about my company and came up with the joke," said Doustdar, 35, who's having the last laugh.

In the fiercely competitive field of online dating Web sites, where some players are spending millions on ads and public relations, Doustdar has received loads of publicity on a shoestring budget.

He has gotten TeamDating featured on many high-profile TV shows and in newspapers and magazines without having hired a consultant or PR firm.

How did he do it? "All it really cost me was time," he said.

Intense Outreach

Time is money. In the months leading up to the site's launch, 90% of Doustdar's day was spent reading, researching and calling on media people.

He checked each media outlet to see who covered online dating and social networking.

He read every story he could find online about dating, social networking, the Internet and technology.

Then he would post comments about the stories online, with his full name, title and company name attached.

Along the way Doustdar gently honed a cordial relationship with reporters through e-mails and phone calls, offering himself as a source. Those links often led to stories about TeamDating.

"I've written e-mails to everybody under the sun," he said.

The dollar value of the publicity he received could easily reach well into six figures, said Andy Oliver, vice president at Lewis PR.

"If someone wrote the bible on public relations, I would want a case study on how Doustdar achieved what he did," said Oliver.

"The key thing was he did his homework, the research and preparation. He really understood the people he was pitching, what interested them and what interested their audience as well," Oliver said.

Doustdar's idea for TeamDating came after a night when he and his partner spent an evening at a bar, where they met two women. Going on blind dates in teams, he reasoned, was a safer and potentially more fun way for people to meet.

Convincing the media that his online dating site was worth a look took some investigative reporting of his own.

He chose USA Today as the starting point 14d found that reporter Olivia Barker covered the online dating field. Doustdar began reading every story Barker wrote, and sent her e-mails on every one. He never mentioned TeamDating in his e-mail commentary, but his signature was always accompanied with a brightly colored logo of his company.

And not all his e-mails were flattering.

"I was disagreeing with her half the time, reasoning she would appreciate honesty," he said.

The exchange went on for six months. One day she called him.

"She liked the e-mails and said they made her think about some things differently. And then she asked me about TeamDating."


The TeamDating site had been running for months in a beta test format. Doustdar held back the launch for when the story ran.

Hits 'Today' Show

More than 200,000 people visited the site that day and about 3,000 of them signed up for team dating, Doustdar says.

His next target was the "Today" show, which did a five-minute segment on TeamDating. About 600,000 visited his site that day.

Doustdar already had a good understanding of how the media worked.

His experience includes executive positions in entertainment branding, licensing, sales and marketing. Firms he worked for included Universal Studios, BMG Entertainment and Procter & Gamble (PG).

Doustdar called on his contacts in those fields whenever he needed a door opened, such as when he made contact with the executive producer of "Today."

Other shows that carried segments on TeamDating included CBS' "The Early Show" and ABC's "Good Morning America."

Wherever he traveled, Doustdar made it a point 15 arrive two days early to visit media executives or local TV outlets -- people he had researched and contacted.

He ended up on news and entertainment shows in St. Louis, Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago and Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla., among others.

The episodes are available for viewing on

The Web site now has about 60,000 regular visitors and 20,000 registered dating teams.

Doustdar set out to achieve something else when he launched his site.

"My goal was to develop both a Web site and a TV show tied to it," said Doustdar.

He's realizing that goal.

According to Doustdar, negotiations are under way with a "signature actor, a major production company and a major cable network" to develop a show around team dating.

An announcement could come "in the next few weeks," he said.

When it happens, you can bet the media will cover it.

No comments: